Hollins in attack mode back at Gophers' shooting guard

  • Article by: AMELIA RAYNO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 16, 2013 - 12:41 AM

He no longer needs to worry about directing the offense.

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Minnesota Gophers guard Andre Hollins (1) scored over Montana Grizzlies guard Jordan Gregory (10) during NCAA basketball action between Minnesota and Montana at Williams Arena Tuesday November 12, 2013.

Photo: Jerry Holt, Star Tribune

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Last week when Andre Hollins showed up to Gophers men’s basketball practice, new coach Richard Pitino had a message for his star guard.

Or perhaps it was more like a challenge:

If Hollins wants to play as a professional, Pitino said, he needs to act the part now.

Hollins has climbed the stairs of the college breakout blueprint over his first two years, becoming respected in the Big Ten as a freshman and then nearly doubling his offensive statistics as a sophomore. He has become the Gophers’ leader on and off the court, and he has developed into a dynamic threat and true weapon.

But now in his junior season, making the switch from point guard to shooting guard, the question is less about what Hollins has done and more about what else he can do.

With the Gophers looking to him as the guiding force, can Hollins take the next step?

“I said, ‘Listen, If you want to be pro — in my opinion you’re a borderline pro — your mentality has got to be as a guy where every single day comes out and is trying to become pro,’ ” Pitino said.

Hollins looked the part Tuesday in the Gophers’ second game of the season. The 6-2 Memphis native finished with 24 points, three assists, three rebounds and a steal in an 84-58 victory over Montana. In two games, Hollins has scored 42 points, including going 12-for-12 from the free-throw line, and he has added eight assists to only two turnovers.

Even so, Pitino believes Hollins is capable of more. Hollins has at times in the past appeared tentative with his shot, passing instead of finding an opportunity to score or simply not being the attacking presence he can be.

Pitino has said the time for playing passively is over.

The Gophers visit an improved Richmond team Saturday, and Hollins will be partly responsible for containing talented Spiders point guard Cedrick Lindsay.

This season, Hollins has started driving to the basket more rather than settling for his jump shot.

“I have to add different facets to my game and just get better, all around,” Hollins said.

With a new emphasis on defensive fouls this year, Hollins is hoping to get to the line more as well. His tendency to slip by opponents makes him a tough defensive assignment. Enough so that Pitino has pleaded with him to just “go get fouled.”

“That’s part of my game, free-throw shooting, that’s a threat,” said Hollins, an 85.3 percent free-throw shooter in his career. “It’s hard for defenders to stay in front of me, especially since I have my shot fake and they’re closing out on me. With the new rule changes, the hand-check and whatnot, I might as well use that to my advantage — drive in, take it to the rim and get my teammates open.”

Hollins probably has an extra advantage this year with the speedy and sharp junior college transfer DeAndre Mathieu dishing to him at point guard, enabling him to focus on scoring rather than setting up the offense. It’s a transition that Hollins — a shooting guard through most of his high school years — has made smoothly.

“Dre got himself involved,” said Mathieu of his aiding Hollins on Monday. “That dude is really good, man, he’s really, really good. It didn’t take much from me.”

Hollins was picked by the media to the All-Big Ten preseason third team. But the ceiling is higher — if not for this year then next. He also made the preseason Wooden Award watch list of 50 elite players in the nation.

With plenty of talent and more than enough motivation, Hollins has taken Pitino’s words to heart, the coach said, and has come into practices with a renewed energy and aggressiveness.

“His focus has been great,” Pitino said. “If he continues to do that, hopefully he’s going to play for a long time.”

 

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